The Orkaan

I learned a new Dutch word this week. It’s orkaan, and it means hurricane. I was in Paris when I first heard blips about a storm moving up the East Coast of the United States. Knowing the media’s tendency to over-dramatize storms (dashing hopes of snow days for as long as I can remember), I wasn’t too concerned—until my in-laws e-mailed to say that they were changing their plans to visit us (plans beginning Tuesday, 30 October). They didn’t want to be away during Hurricane Sandy and have to wonder if their basement had flooded, or if other damage had been done. I e-mailed my own parents, asking: Is this thing really a big deal? 

Just a few of the split and fallen trees on my parents’ street

As we now know without doubt, the answer was yes. While my extended family and friends throughout the NJ and NY area lost power and hunkered down away from windows and bailed out their basements and took cold showers and heated soup over gas stoves, I had what they did not: unlimited access to all the images flooding the news and social media coming out of the storm. It was horrifying.

Flag outside my sister’s apartment building, shredded by wind that reached 80+MPH on Monday, 29 October

I don’t expect my international friends here to be apprised of the weather forecasts for my home state, but when I went to church last Sunday I was babbling to everyone about the storm that was then about-to-hit. When the winds and rain got bad the following day, I received a series of e-mails and texts all along the lines of: Power’s out! Conserving batteries now. …followed by silence.

In the intervening week there have been short updates followed by much longer ones as people’s power blinks back to life. Not everyone’s has: my sister is one of many now at the one-week mark without electricity. But those with it tell stories of downed trees and smashed cars and flooded streets, and they all stress that the loss of electricity is only an inconvenience compared to what many are going through.

Everything in my parents’ neighborhood is coated in what my brother accurately described as what would happen if you put “trees in a food processor.”

Hurricane, n. Etymology:  < Spanish huracan, Old Spanish *furacan, Portuguese furacão, from the Carib word given by Oviedo ashuracan, by Peter Martyr (as transl. by R. Eden) as furacan. Thence also Italian uracano (Diez), French ouragan, Dutch orkaan, German, Danish, Swedish orkan. The earlier English forms reflect all the varieties of the Spanish and Portuguese, with numerous popular perversions, hurricane being itself one, which became frequent after 1650, and was established from 1688. Earlier use favoured forms in final -ana-ano, perhaps deduced from the Spanish pluralhuracanes (but words from Spanish were frequently assumed to end in -o). (Thank you, OED.)

Now, in light of an orkaan this may not seem very important, but while I was in Paris I spent quite a bit of time on my essay for an expat writing contest giving advice on moving abroad. That essay is now live on the Expats Blog site for your reading (I hope!) pleasure. If you like Unquiet Time, would you leave my entry a comment or a “like”? It helps bring attention to my entry for the writing judges. Thanks!!

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